Drugs and Violence Underscore U.S. Influence in Honduras

(IPS) – A rise in drug trafficking in Honduras has resulted in a sharp increase in violence, leading some to question the United States’ influence in the country.

Honduras, along with several other Central American countries, has become a transshipment point for U.S.-bound illegal drugs, predominantly cocaine. This has led to wide-scale drug intervention efforts, which has subsequently led to an increasingly bloody effort to stymie the trafficking.

Fueled by the violence surrounding the drug trade, and the failure of security forces in the country, the war on drugs in Honduras has been marred by a rapid increase in homicides. In 2005, there were 2,417 homicides. By 2010, the numbers of homicides jumped up 158 percent from 2005, to a total of 6,239 homicides.

“The escalating war on drugs in Honduras is another legacy of the coup,” Mark Weisbot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said Wednesday, referring to the 2009 ousting of former President Manuel Zelaya after an alleged constitutional overreach.

“The coup has led to the breakdown of many of Honduras’ key institutions,” Weisbrot said, specifically citing abuses by the Honduran police.

Many Honduran security forces in the region have been infiltrated by drug organisations. In the past year, police officers have been implicated in a wide array of criminal activity, such as kidnappings, extortion and robberies, according to the New York Times.

In March, a letter from 94 members of the House of Representative implored the State Department to limit assistance to the Honduran police and military due to the human rights abuses, many times carried out under the influence of the cartels.

According to some activists, there are other interests that render the U.S. military and fiscal interventions moot.

“The increased funding is allegedly to fight the drug war, yet much of the violence in Honduras is politically motivated, unrelated to drugs,” said Tanya Cole, a member of Witness for Peace Southwest, a human rights group.

The U.S. is one of the strongest supporters of Honduras, politically and economically.

Honduras serves as an important smuggling port for Mexican drug cartels, which they then use to expand trafficking networks into Central America. According to U.S. officials, the north coast of Honduras is the origin of a drug pipeline connected to the U.S.

The U.S. has some leeway in this issue as Honduras’ biggest trading partner, having supplied 34 percent of Honduran imports and purchased 41 percent of Honduran exports in 2010, totaling 8.3 billion dollars worth of trade, according to the U.S. State Department.

The war on drugs in Honduras is led by the Joint-Task Force-Bravo, a U.S. military group posted in Comayagua, Honduras, that takes on the cudgels of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Honduras with the help of local authorities.

One of the biggest problems exacerbating the drug wars is the dire poverty in Honduras, which necessitates the drug economy. Nearly 65 percent of Hondurans live in poverty, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook.

This allows a few Hondurans to rise while exploiting the situation in the country. Miguel Facusse, a Honduran biofuels industrialist, is a major player in their economy, but has faced criticism after reports linked him to the drug trade.

A WikiLeaks cache described a plane holding 1,000 kilos of cocaine that crashed and burned on Facusse’s estate, said to be “the third time in the last fifteen months that drug traffickers have been linked to this property.”

Drug peddlers are also continuing to flood into Honduras, reportedly to flee from anti-cocaine crackdowns in Mexico and Columbia, two of the biggest exporters of U.S.-bound cocaine. Presently, Central America serves as the crossing point for 84 percent of all U.S.-bound cocaine, according to Joint Task Force-Bravo.

One of the byproducts of the Central American arm of the war on drugs is the high toll of civilian casualties. One example is the May killing of four Honduran civilians, including two pregnant women, in an attack by a U.S. helicopter targeted at drug peddlers, under a programme dubbed Operation Anvil.

That attack triggered angry protests in the isolated northeastern Mosquito Coast area on the Caribbean Sea.

Honduras is notorious for being one of the most violent countries on earth. According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, there were 82.1 homicides for every 100,000 citizens in 2010, the highest homicide rate in the world. (In comparison, the United States had five homicides per 100,000.)

The U.S. has historical ties to Honduras, further complicating the situation and cementing its political role there. In the 1980s, Honduras was a strategic partner during the early stages of what would be known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

In 1990, Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) confirmed that there had been a quid pro quo agreement with Honduras during the mid-1980s, with U.S. military and economic aid going to Honduras in exchange for assistance to the Contra rebels in neighbouring Nicaragua.